Shrabana Datta
Consultant, Social Inclusion and Tourism

AJIYER Fair Trade Ltd. began working as a social business enterprise for the betterment of Bangladesh communities in 2002. It aims to strengthen the livelihood of rural agricultural practitioners, craftsmen, and artisans; empower women and children; revive cultural heritage; and ensure food and nutritional security. Through its work, AJIYER

  • helps enable marginalized people who have knowledge and skills by providing them with a platform to generate alternative income;
  • protects intangible cultural heritage by practicing and honoring living culture and tradition of the country;
  • revitalizes cottage industries by linking markets with private sector;
  • advocates women empowerment and gender equality to claim their rights;
  • shares and networks on knowledge and tacit skills collected from communities; and
  • promotes community-based tourism for ethical and responsible consumption among local and foreign tourists.

AJIYER also assists handcraft and naturally dyed fabric producers as well as organic farmers in getting fair value through trade, promotion, and deals.

In collaboration with UBINIG (Policy Research for Development Alternative), a community-based and community-led research and advocacy organization, AJIYER began its organic farming movement in 2008 in response to commercial farming practices, by linking life, ecology, and livelihood strategies. To strengthen the livelihood of agricultural farmers in Tangail, AJIYER introduced a new method—Movement of Farmers—and linked it with a biodiverse organic farming system that ensures seed and crop diversity by harnessing the knowledge and experiences of women. Seed conservation through a seed bank is a woman’s art and is the key element in building a national seed network. Keeping seed preservation in the hands of women develops harmonized relationships between men and women, ensuring women’s command and power in agricultural production system. Sharing and exchanging seeds among farming households creates conditions that reinforces community bonds and ensures peace and prosperity.

Materials for natural dyes and mordants © AJIYER

Women empowerment is the total sum of changes needed for a woman to realize and materialize her full human rights. AJIYER has taken the challenge to empower women in Bangladesh because women and girls are disproportionately affected by poverty and discrimination. Women equipped with proper resources have the power to help their families and entire communities escape poverty. The focus on women exercising their greater choice in decisions affects their lives; reduces violence against them, builds strong social movements based on women’s solidarity, and ensures the participation of men.

Safeguarding ICH is a crucial component where it is interlinked with AJIYER’s other activities. Identifying and inventorying ICH—be it in traditional craftsmanship, weaving, music, folk songs (pala gaan, song jatra), or musical instruments—ensures safeguarding. UNESCO proclaimed the traditional Baul songs of Bangladesh as one of the forty-three masterpieces of oral and intangible heritage. During the Dol Purnima, a major Bangladeshi festival, there are numerous discussions on Lalon’s philosophical thoughts and presentations of Lalon Music by the Bauls held at Lalon’s shrine. With variety of local musical instruments, such as ektaradotaradholkhol, and flute, musicians tribute their folk music to Lalon. A mela or fair is also held, allowing nearby villagers to sell their products.

AJIYER contributed to reviving the Tangail nakshi buti by engaging women in weavers’ groups, establishing sari stalls in local markets, and connecting women with urban fashion designers to sustain the value chain. Jamdani is considered one of the finest muslin textiles of Bangladesh. To contribute to the sustainable economic growth of jamdani weavers, Ajiyer designed the Experiencing Treasure of Textile Tour, a six-day experience tour dedicated to jamdani weaving as well as jacquard weaving, buti weaving, and nakshi katha making. Individual customers and retailers can directly interact with weavers and gain understanding of market mechanisms, including issues of quality and price. Such events also help them negotiate a fair price for high value, instead of being dependent on weekly markets, which are often dominated by middlemen and wholesalers.

With a goal to promote Bangladeshi culture, crafts, and biodiversity to the conscience tourist (local and global), AJIYER is engaged in responsible community-based tourism where the local community is in the decision-making seat to minimize negative economic, environmental, and social effects related to tourism activities. It also connects communities with the private sector so that they can develop delivery capacity, raise funds, and maintain commercial links. Today, the program operates in four locations around Bangladesh—Tangail, Kamalgonj, Jhikorgacha, and Kushtia. Diversifying tourism activities and locations ensures that tourists experience Bangladeshi agricultural and rural craft-based lifestyles as well as traditional food, costumes, and rituals of many indigenous and rural communities.